How to Get Buy-In From Your Team On Tough Decisions

Mar 24, 2015
5 Min Read

Ever dreaded announcing an unpopular decision to your staff? Here’s how to make it go more smoothly.

It would be nice if your staff wholeheartedly supported every decision that you made. In reality, there may be times when you need to make an unpopular decision – for budget reasons or strategic ones. Here are some steps you can take that will increase the chances of getting buy-in from your team.

1. Ask for input – and genuinely listen with an open mind. Team members are much more likely to support your decisions if they feel that they had a chance to give input and that their input was considered with an open mind. Even if the decision ultimately doesn’t go their way, simply feeling that their concerns were heard and considered will usually make people more willing to support your final decision. (Truly engaging with people during this process – asking questions and explaining where you disagree – will increase the chances that people feel like you truly heard them.)

What’s more, hearing people’s input – and truly considering it with an open mind, not just paying lip service to hearing people out – will often lead to better decisions! You might get insight from someone else’s perspective that will help you implement a better solution or avoid land mines that you hadn’t considered. However…

2. If asking for input would be insincere because it won’t impact the decision, don’t just go through the motions. If people realize later that the decision was already made, they’ll be less likely to trust you in the future and to believe that their input matters. If you know that their input won’t impact things, instead explain why that is and what the reasons are for the decision. For example, you might say, “I didn’t solicit input on this from the team before deciding to go in this direction because the short window of time meant that I needed to make a decision quickly over the weekend (or because it was clear that our finances required this to move, or whatever the reason is), but I do want your input into figuring out how to best implement this with a minimum of inconvenience.”

3. Explain your thought process. Too often, managers announce decisions, even potentially controversial ones, without explaining the “why” behind them or what considerations were taken into account. This often dramatically decreases buy-in and leads to discontent and lower morale. Even when staffers don’t agree with a decision, they’re much more likely to support it if they understand why it was made and that their viewpoints were heard.

4. If you get significant push-back, ask people to try it for a while, with the option to revisit it down the road. Sometimes staff push-back comes from thinking that a tough decision will be the absolute final word on something and that they’ll just be expected to live with problems that result. Knowing that the discussion can be reopened if worries about it come to fruition (for instance, if customers hate the new policy, or it unacceptably decreases production time, or makes it harder to get work done) can give people peace of mind. For example, you might say, “I do think that after a few weeks of using the new system, we’ll find that we’re able to process clients at the same rate that we do currently. But if that’s not happening a month from now, let’s plan on revisiting this to make sure that it’s still the right decision for us.”

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